What is the difference between ‘por’ and ‘para’ in Spanish?

A woman walking down a street with a lot of colorful houses.
Por and para are two words that have confused many students of Spanish for years. Both words look similar, they are used in a lot of different contexts, and there is not a clear English translation for each word. They can mean “for,” but they can also mean, among other words,  “by,” “through,” or “to.” Stick around because in this post we’ll break down por and para for you.

Table of Contents

For a review of grammar terms used in the post, make sure to check out the Unpacking the grammar section at the end!

First, we’ll take a look at some contexts in which both por and para can be used to mean different things.

Reason/cause (‘por’) and purpose (‘para’)

When you want to express the reason or the cause of something, you want to use por . It translates to “because of.”

For instance, consider the sentence: Está en el hospital por un problema menor. (She’s in the hospital because of a minor health problem.) The reason or the cause for why she’s in the hospital is introduced by por .

On the other hand, when you want to express purpose, para is the word you want to use. It translates to “to” or “in order to.”

One example could be: Vino a este país para trabajar. (He came to this country to/in order to work.) The purpose of his coming to this country is highlighted in blue, and it’s introduced by para.

UseEquivalent toExampleTranslation
porReason/causebecause of            Está en el hospital por un problema menor.She’s in the hospital because of a minor health problem.
paraPurposeto/in order toVino a este país para trabajar.He came to this country to/in order to work.

Time (mostly ‘por’)

As a general rule, you want to use por when referring to time. For instance:

  • Duration

To express how long you do/did/will do something, you can use por:
Trabajó por ocho horas.  She worked for eight hours.

  • Approximate time

For instance: Vendrá a casa por esas fechas. He’ll come back home around that date.

Exception!
When expressing time, para is only used for deadlines. La tarea es para mañana. The assignment is due tomorrow.
  • Specific part of the day

With words expressing parts of the day, like mañana (morning), tarde (afternoon, evening), and noche (night), you use por and the definite article la (the): Trabajo por la mañana/por la tarde/por la noche. I work in the morning/afternoon/evening/at night.

  • Frequency and speed

To express frequency, use por:

Nado dos veces por semana. I swim twice a week.

In expressions about speed, use por:

El límite en este estado es 65 millas por hora. The speed limit in this state is 65 miles per hour.

  • Estar + por + infinitive (to be about to)

The use of por following a form of estar (to be) is equivalent to the English “to be about to”: Luis está por cumplir veinte años. Luis is about to turn twenty. Estoy por salir. I’m about to leave.

⤷TIP In Spain, it is possible to use estar para + infinitive to indicate “to be about to do something”: Estoy para salir. I’m about to leave.

Space (mostly ‘por’)

As a general rule, por is used to express movement in space and it’s equivalent to the English “by,” “along,” “through,” and “around.” For instance:
  • Paseamos por la playa.
    We took a walk along the beach.
  • Estoy mirando por la ventana.
    I’m looking through the window.
  • Vivo por la autopista.
    I live by the highway.
  • El restaurante está por aquí.
    The restaurant is around here.
Exception!
In this context, para is used for destinations. Voy para Buenos Aires. I’m headed to Buenos Aires.
IMPORTANT
Ir (to go) and other verbs related to movement (caminar, to walk; correr, to run; etc.) work with both por and para. For instance, what would be the difference between Voy por el centro and Voy para el centro? That’s right! Voy por el centro means, “I’m going through downtown,” whereas Voy para el centro means, “I’m headed towards downtown.”
Click the link to learn more about Spanish prepositions of place and movement. Next, we’ll review other contexts in which only por or para can be used:

Other uses of ‘por

  • Tasks to complete
    Use por followed by an infinitive to mean “(yet) to be done.”
    • Me quedan tres episodios por mirar.
      I have three episodes to watch.
    • Tengo un reporte por terminar.
      I have a paper to finish.
  • Transportation and communication
    Equivalent to the English “by means of,” “by,” “via,” and “through.”
    • Viaja por tren hasta Miami.
      She travels by train to Miami.
    • Nos comunicamos por FaceTime.
      We communicate via FaceTime.
  • Substitution Equivalent to the English “on behalf of” and “instead of.”
    • Trabajo por ti mañana.
      I’ll take your shift tomorrow.
    • Lo hice por ti.
      I did it on your behalf.
  • Equivalent to “for the sake of” and “out of”For instance:
    • Corre por correr.
      She runs for the sake of running.
    • Lo hice por placer.
      I did it for (out of) pleasure.
  • Agent in passive sentencesEquivalent to the English “by.” Learn more about Spanish passive sentences in this post. For instance:

El gol fue marcado por Ronaldo.
The goal was scored by Ronaldo.

  • Rates, multiplication, and exchangesEquivalent to the English “for” and “by.”
    • El interés es del 6 por ciento.
      The interest rate is 6 percent.
    • –¿Cuánto es dos por dos?– What’s two times two?
      – Cuatro – Four.
    • Lo compró por 10 dólares.
      She bought it for ten dollars.
  • To go get something

Por is used with verbs of movement (ir, to go; venir, to come; correr, to run…) to indicate fetching or searching for something.

Voy (a) por el pan. I’ll go get some bread.

⤷TIP In Spain, you can use the combo a + por with verbs of movement when you want to express that you’re getting something, but in Latin America use only por

Vamos (a) por él. Let’s go get him.

  • Estar + por + nouns (to be in favor of)

Por is used with estar followed by a noun to mean “to be in favor of.”
Estoy por los derechos de los animales. I’m in favor of animal rights.

IMPORTANT
  • Por is used with some adverbs of manner such as por cierto (certainly).
  • Por is also used following certain verbs. For instance: esforzarse por (to make an effort to).

Other uses of ‘para

  • Recipients

We use para to indicate the intended recipient of something. Este regalo es para ti. This present is for you.

  • Opinions

Other than using creo que… or pienso que… (I believe/think that…), you can introduce your opinions using para.
Para mí, la solución está clara. According to me/To me, the solution is clear.

  • Contrast

We can use para to introduce something that contradicts the norm.
Hace frío para ser agosto. It’s cold for August.

  • Equivalent to “as” and “with the status of”

For instance: La eligieron para gobernadora. She was elected (as) governor.

  • Estar + para + infinitive

We can use estar with para followed by an infinitive to indicate that someone or something is ready for the action of the verb. For instance:

Este mango está perfecto; está para comérselo.
This mango is perfect; it’s ready to be eaten.

Este librero está para tirarse.
This bookshelf is ready to be thrown out.

  • No estar para + nouns (lack of inclination to accept something)

You can use no estar + para to say that you’re not in the mood for something someone has inopportunely suggested or has improperly done. For instance:
Deja de molestar, no estoy para tonterías.
Stop being annoying, I’m not in the mood for your nonsense.

  • (Para) con

Para can optionally be used with con (with) to indicate “to/towards.”
Es muy amable (para) con todos. She’s nice to everyone.

  • Employer

To indicate the institution or person someone works for.
Trabaja para la universidad. He works for the university.

IMPORTANT
Trabajar (to work) works with both por and para. For instance, what would be the difference between trabaja por and trabaja para? That’s right! Trabaja por means, “He works on my behalf,” whereas Trabaja parameans, “He works for me.”

Summary

Wow! That was a lengthy lesson on Spanish “por” and “para.” Take some time to let it all sink in. To make it a little easier, here’s a downloadable and printable summary of all the uses of por and para with examples.

If you want to keep reading about Spanish prepositions, don’t miss out our post on the most common Spanish prepositions!

Ready to practice? Check out these activities (it includes an answer key)!

Are you interested in learning more about Spanish Grammar? Check out our Spanish Grammar Homepage.
Unpacking the grammar

The passive voice is used to minimize the role of the agent (the person/object doing/causing the action) of the sentence in order to bring focus to the theme/patient of the sentence (the person/object that undergoes the action).

  • In Spanish it’s formed essentially the same way as in English. The passive voice is formed with the auxiliary verb ser (in any tense) plus the past participle of the main verb in the active sentence:

Active (regular, normal, non-passive) sentence: Gaspar Noé dirigió esta película (Gaspar Noé directed this film).
Passive: Esta película fue dirigida por Gaspar Noé (This film was directed by Gaspar Noé).

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Extra Resources:

Por and para uses
Preposition por

Activities:

Por and para activity

Activities:

Por and para activity

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